Two public high schools will open next fall in Baltimore in part to offer students at low-performing neighborhood high schools a choice.
Chosen recently from a list of proposals submitted by groups interested in running schools, the two academies are the first tangible results of a partnership between the school system and local and national foundations. Those private organizations have pledged more than $20 million to reform the city's failing neighborhood high schools.
"The research shows that in cities with big choice for high schools, there is a higher graduation rate and lower dropout rate," said Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo.
The first school, called the New Era Academy, is intended to be a rigorous academic school for students aiming for college but who might not meet entrance standards for the selective citywide high schools such as City College.
New Era will be run by an educational nonprofit group called Replications Inc., which oversees eight schools in New York City. The academy will have strict standards for behavior and attendance.
The second school will be called the Baltimore Freedom Academy and will be run by a consortium largely composed of university groups and led by the University of Maryland's schools of law and social work. The Freedom Academy will encourage students to be involved in their communities and become advocates for social change.
"I think it will be a heavy emphasis on literacy, speaking, writing and critical thinking," said Bonnie Copeland, executive director of the Fund for Educational Excellence, a local nonprofit group chosen to oversee the $20 million in foundation money. "I would anticipate students do a lot of active learning."
The consortium, called Community Law in Action, has been working with students at Northwestern High School on projects that required them to research issues such as lead paint.
"They won this with their previous work with Baltimore City," Russo said.
Locations for the two schools have not been announced, Russo said, because the school system hasn't talked with the communities in the prospective areas. School officials have chosen possible sites for each school and have found alternate locations in case problems arise. The academies will occupy space in existing buildings.
The freshman class at the new schools will be recruited from this year's eighth-grade class. About 80 to 100 students will enter each school's freshman grade in the fall. Another batch of freshmen will be recruited each year thereafter until the new academies have all four grade levels filled.
Education officials also plan to revamp the large Lake Clifton/Eastern High School by breaking it into three schools.
Russo said she had planned to break up Southwestern High School as well. But she decided that the plan was too ambitious and delayed it for a year.
The principals of the new academies will have some autonomy because they aren't funded through traditional channels. Money for the schools comes in part from a steering committee that includes members of the private foundations.
Principals for the schools will be chosen by Russo, in collaboration with the nonprofit groups. Teachers will be part of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
Principals will be allowed to pick their teachers, and each school can choose its curriculum as long as state standards are met, school officials said.
The foundation money is being spent on writing curriculum, training and recruiting teachers, as well as redesigning the older schools, but it can't be spent on construction of new facilities, computers or renovations.